Is working from home good for business? It's a question many companies are asking as the need for a traditional workspace grows ever-more obsolete through technology. However, companies worry that employees will slack-off when they're out of sight of their manager. Nicholas Bloom and John Roberts from the Harvard Business Review oversaw an experiment that found evidence to the contrary--a work from home policy benefits business as well as employees, but for workers it can get lonely.

The research team tested the idea on a travel agency based in China called Ctrip. The company had considered rolling-out a work from home policy in order to reduce rent costs and staff turn-over (which stood at 50 percent). However, the company was worried that by doing so, productivity would be reduced. So, management decided to tested the policy before it was rolled out. The test group was comprised of 255 employees, who were split into two groups: Those with even-numbered birthdays were sent to work from home over the course of nine months while those with odd-numbered birthdays had to come into the office, acting as the experiment's control group.

Over the course of the trial period, Ctrips found that the home workers productivity increased by 13 percent. Those who worked from home took fewer breaks and sick days compared to their office-bound counterparts. The home workers also revealed in detailed surveys that they were able to get more done, because of their quieter working conditions--no co-workers dropping by for a quick chat about the weather. Also, the home workers displayed more satisfaction with their work and less exhaustion related to their day jobs compared to the office group. Staff turn-over fell amongst the home group by almost 50 percent, compared to those who were office-bound.

By the test's completion, Ctrips decided to roll-out a work from home option to its employees. However, this new policy brought nearly half of the home workers back to the office and three-quarters of the office workers decided to remain—declining the opportunity to work from home. It seems some of the employees missed the day-to-day interactions they would normally get from working in a collaborative space.

Bloom and Roberts advise that from this study a work from policy could benefit many companies that want to reduce turn-over rates, increase productivity, and reduce costs that come with maintaining a physical workspace.

“We think working from home can be a positive experience both for the company and its employees, as our research with Ctrip showed. More firms ought to try it. ...it is critical for retaining and motivating your key employees, and is an essential part of the 21st century office.”

Read more at the Harvard Business Review

Photo Credit: Johan Larsson/Flickr